Egyptians remain in detention after Greek court acquittal over shipwreck

FILE PHOTO: Trial over deadly migrant shipwreck off Greece, in Kalamata

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek police detained nine Egyptians on Thursday saying they could flee the country, despite a court ruling dismissing a case against them over a 2023 shipwreck, one of the deadliest in the Mediterranean.

The disaster shocked Europe and the case has been followed closely in Greece, which has been a gateway to the European Union for thousands of migrants and refugees.

Up to 700 migrants from Pakistan, Syria and Egypt boarded a fishing trawler in Libya that was bound for Italy before sinking off southwestern Greece, last June. Some 104 survivors were rescued and only 82 bodies were recovered.

On Tuesday, a Greek court dismissed charges against the nine men of setting up a criminal group and causing the shipwreck, citing lack of jurisdiction as the disaster occurred in international waters. The court also acquitted them of charges of illegal entry into the country and migrant smuggling.

Following the ruling, the men, who have spent 11 months in pre-trial detention and have pending asylum applications, were transferred to a police station where they remained in custody. It could take months for their applications to be processed.

On Thursday, police said in their administrative decision they should be detained as there was a risk that they could flee Greece. According to the decision, they will remain in detention until their asylum applications are processed.

"It is tragic and unacceptable," one of their lawyers, Natasha Dailiani, told Reuters, adding that the men should have been freed and that they plan to appeal the detention order.

"It is inhumane to hold those people in detention after a court dismissed the charges against them and since they have already spent 11 months in prison in vain."

Police authorities were not immediately available for comment.

The shipwreck's cause is officially undetermined.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; editing by Rod Nickel)